Australian eventer Bill Levett, who’s lived and competed in England since 1994, can pinpoint the exact moment he decided to pursue eventing as a career: watching legendary Australian eventer Andrew Hoy on TV, competing in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. At the time, Bill was in Agricultural College in Victoria, Australia, getting his two-year certification in stud management, so he wasn’t really in a great position to fulfill any Olympic dreams. But with the same tenacity that prompted the son of two retired schoolteachers to pursue a career in horses years earlier, Bill kept chipping away at his dream to make it as a professional rider.
The Path from Australia to Professional Eventing in England
His path was a little more circuitous than some; his first job out of school was as a jackaroo (the Australian equivalent of a cowboy) in New South Wales, where he learned basic horsemanship skills. Then he landed a job with former pro eventer Neale Lavis, team gold and individual silver medalist for Australia at the 1960s Olympics. For the first six months of the job, he did little more than cattle driving, then started working with the racehorses Neale also kept. But after Bill left for Victoria to get his stud management degree—and to catch that fateful screening of Andrew Hoy’s Olympic ride—he returned to Neale’s yard with a new purpose: becoming a professional rider.
Encouraged, trained and outfitted by Neale, who treated Bill like a son and helped him work his way up to advanced level during the six years he spent working there, Bill’s big chance came in 1988, when he won a scholarship to train with the legendary Mark Phillips at Gatcombe. However, he wasn’t quite ready to move to the UK full-time, and so returned to Australia after the year was up to resume his training.
Moving to the UK to Pursue his Dreams
In 1994, though, Bill was ready. He headed to the UK with one final gift from Neale: an off-the-track thoroughbred named Mirabooka NJ. The gangly three-year-old wasn’t much of a looker, but was a strong partner in Bill’s bid for selection for the World Equestrian Games in the Netherlands. They didn’t ultimately make it to the Games together, but Bill decided to stay in England, where he remains today. He also adopted the practice of adding the suffix “NJ” to all of his own horses’ names, with the NJ representing a tip-of-the-hat to Neale Lavis (as NJ is Neale’s nickname) for the help he provided to Bill in Australia.
Bill, his wife Jenny, and their two children now live in Gloucestershire, England, where Bill competes at the four-star level and has taken top-10 places at Burghley, Luhnuhlen, Badminton and Rolex Kentucky. He also wore the green and gold for Australia in the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
Given the large role Neale Lavis played in Bill’s life (Bill jokes that Neale lent him everything from horses, trailers and boots, to stock shirts from the ’60s Olympics), Bill is passionate about helping others get a leg up in the industry. He places a strong emphasis in mentoring and giving back to younger riders at his own Gloucestershire-based barn, offering clinics, farm tours and other all-access events to help other aspiring riders get a taste of life as a professional eventer.
Feeding SUCCEED to Maintain Horse’s Weight and Condition
As a professional rider, Bill’s chief focus has to be the health and welfare of his horses. So when one of his horses was, in his words, “not doing well” despite being fed plenty of good-quality feed and forage, Bill was keen to listen to advice from his vet (a co-owner in the horse), who suggested they try SUCCEED.
“Before we started feeding SUCCEED, the horse didn’t hold its condition as well as it does today,” Bill says. “If it could talk, you would expect it to say it had a tummy ache and grumblings, as it was not a very happy horse, feeding-wise.”
So Bill tried his horse on SUCCEED. “The rest,” he says, “is history.”
Now, SUCCEED has become a well-established part of Bill’s feeding routine. In general, Bill starts horses new to SUCCEED on paste, then swaps to feeding it in granule form—though he says that a few of his older and/or top horses stay on the paste. “They love the paste…I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s like giving a child an ice cream—they seem to really enjoy it!”
In turn, Levett enjoys the benefits of having a barn full of horses that, as he puts it, simply “do well.”
“SUCCEED ensures that our horses hold their weight well, even when super-fit and competing/traveling a fair amount,” he says. “It also seems to help one horse with skin problems to stay healthier.”
While the summer eventing season is Bill’s main focus, he also relies on SUCCEED to provide year-round digestive support. “We’re really pleased with how our horses have held their weight and muscle over the winter months, thanks in part to the help of SUCCEED,” he says. “It really does make our job so much easier, as all of the horses—even the fussy eaters and poor-doers—seem to thrive on SUCCEED.”
He’s also had success with the supplement when integrating new horses into his barn. “It has been particularly helpful with a horse called Drakkar who arrived in early December from New Zealand, and had rather a shock to his system coming from the sunshine of New Zealand to the depths of our English winter,” Bill says. “SUCCEED has been hugely helpful in ensuring he has had a smooth transition in to our management system, which is a very different physical environment to New Zealand.”
While Bill Levett has had a few ups and downs on his journey to becoming the eventer he is today, he constantly cites his support group of family members, owners of horses he rides, grooms, and his horses for playing a role in his success.
“We like bringing horses along slowly and at their own pace, to avoid undue stress,” he says. “I’m always looking for new ways to support our horses, such as feeding SUCCEED, but I also try to keep my sense of humor,” he says. “In this business, you have to have a sense of humor to avoid going crazy!”